The Hot Spring City of Kaminoyama
Resting at the base of Mt. Zao right next to Yamagata City is the quiet hot spring city of Kaminoyama whose healing waters have made it a major tourist destination from the Edo Period.
Famed for its unique crystal clear hot spring water with highly moisturizing properties, the waters of Kaminoyama are said to have divine healing properties and that were favored by the samurai of the Tendo Clan who would bath in these waters to rejuvenate their bodies during the harsh winters and after rigorous training.
Today guests can enjoy the traditional luxury of Kaminoyama's onsen ryokan (Japanese inns) that are congregated around the castle at the center of this city. This city is also famous for its beautiful sakura in the spring, rich bounty of fruits, and free foot baths where you can relax after strolling through the streets of this city.
We especially recommend bathing in Kaminoyama after visiting Mt. Zao as the hot spring waters there have a strong defoliating effect that the waters of kaminoyama can help rehydrate and heal. Visiting both of these onsen regions has been an ancient form of skin treatment for centuries that is still popular to this day.
One of Yamagata's famous onsen destinations alongside Ginzan Onsen.
Located roughly 20 minutes south of Yamagata City via train or car.
Onsen Ryokan range from about 10,000 to 80,000 yen per person.
One of the Onsen Inns of Kaminoyama
The Divine Springs of Kaminoyama
Natural Hot Spring Water in Kaminoyama
Local legend has it that the Kaminoyama Onsen hot springs were discovered in the mid-1400s amidst a traveling monk’s journey across the frozen Tohoku frontier when he caught sight of a single wounded crane tending its injuries in the steamy waters of a natural hot spring.
He took it as a divine sign that this was a place of healing and rest and thus the Kaminoyama hot spring town was born.
Historically Kaminoyama Onsen eventually developed into a prosperous Onsen village during the Edo period as samurai serving the nearby Kaminoyama castle would flock to the hot springs during the winter months as a desperate attempt to find a warming solace among the unforgiving chill of northern Tohoku.
Today much of this historic charm still flows through the city as many of the notable samurai residencies and old houses still line the streets, leaving a faint taste of the snow-imprinted footsteps of the samurai that once inhabited the town.
Today visitors can rest their weary bodies and soak away all their troubles in one of the seven main public bathhouses that serve as the pride and heart of the city itself.
Some bathhouses such as Shima-Oyu Onsen have been in continuous operation since the 12th century and take incredible prestige in providing exemplary services and inviting local cuisine.
Kaminoyama even has a free hot spring foot bath at the base of Kaminoyama Castle.
While a stay at one of the historic bathhouses can range anywhere between 10,000 - 80,000 yen per night depending on the individual Ryokan and the season, many ryokan open their baths during the daytime to non-staying guests for a fee of around 1000 yen so that visitors just passing through may still experience the historic bathes in all their majesty.
The private baths in Sagiya Sansorai's rooms.
Most of Kaminoyama’s hot springs are centered around the foot of Kaminoyama Castle which was erected in 1535 by the Tendo clan before falling under the Kaminoyama Domain during the Tokugawa Shogunate.
Today a reconstruction of the castle completed in 1982 serves as a museum of which is open to visitors daily for an admission fee of 410 yen. While the dead of winter is traditionally the most popular time to visit Kaminoyama, the romantic cherry blossoms that illuminate the castle grounds in the spring also bring a steady flow of visitors around mid-April.
Kaminoyama Castle in the Fall
For those looking to venture out to Yamagata in the summer months in order to take advantage of the region’s stellar hiking and striking views of Mount Zao’s Okuyama Crater, Kaminoyama is well renowned for its fruit farms where you can go fruit picking for local produce.
While cherries are the local delicacy of Yamagata Prefecture, grapes and La France pears can all be enjoyed from June to mid-July.
Additionally, the crisp northern air and pristine untouched environmental conditions invoke the perfect growing conditions for konnyaku, a type of jelly made from devil's tongue root. The konnyaku’s firm texture and subtle flavor allow for a number of interpretations of the root in many local dishes such as pulled into a noodle or as a meat substitute. Paired with the sweet wine brewed from local grapes, you really can’t go wrong!
Experiences and Tours
You may also see our full list of experiences here in Yamagata Prefecture here.